A few weeks ago, I heard a rumor you could remineralize your teeth. That is, regrow what’s decayed. What really pricked my ears, though, was hearing you could fill in your own cavities.
Confession: I have cavities. I know it every time I bite into a piece of chocolate. But don’t get the wrong idea; I’m not a sweet tooth. Sweets are pretty rare for me, and even when I do treat myself to a chocolate, it’s the 70% cocoa, minimally processed, stone-ground kind. Good stuff. I’d even go so far as to say, good for you.
I had cavities as a kid, too (I have the fillings to prove it); also, I’ve never been able to bite into cold things. Ice cream. Refrigerated strawberries. Even back then, these were to be handled with care. And I’ve never known how to address this. Obviously brushing is important, so I brushed; as for flossing, well – another confession: I can’t stand it. It’s awkward, it’s messy, it’s tender. In short, it’s uncomfortable and gross. With each cleaning my dentist would remind me of the importance of flossing and I’d set out once more, resolved to obey, only to lose the dream all over again. Call it a moral failing. It’s hard to make yourself do something you hate when the benefits aren’t obvious to you.
This is why, for years, I’ve chalked my mouth situation (cavities, aversion to cold things) up to my deficiencies as a flosser. At the same time, deep-down I never could believe flossing was a magic fix, either.
Enter remineralization. I first heard about it on that great town square of our times, Facebook. Then I heard about it again from the Real Food people. When I started looking into it, Weston Price’s name kept coming up. In fact, wherever I heard any hint of remineralization, it always led back to him.
Weston Price. Dentist. If you’ve never heard of him, he was born in the late 1800s and lived almost to 1950: the hey day of industrialization. Industrialized manufacture, industrialized transportation, industrialized technology, industrialized food. The industrial transition touched pretty much every aspect of everyone’s life in the developed world, and became part of the definition of “modern.”
Back to dentistry. Weston noticed a pattern playing out in his chair: healthy people had healthy teeth; unhealthy people had tooth decay. Before you shrug, it’s not that obvious. The going idea was (and is still, to some extent) that to get healthy teeth, you need to brush, floss and avoid too much sugar; you’ll also hear things like: get regular cleanings, do a daily antibacterial rinse, use fluoride. But here’s the thing. If that were the whole of it, sick folks who followed the same rules should get the same results. But that’s not what Weston found.
The rule I left off the list is, “Get good nutrition.” Weston honed in on nutrition as the culprit behind both general sickness and poor teeth, which would explain why he kept seeing the two go hand in hand. His hypothesis? Maybe all this industrial food was to blame. Processed this, processed that, all that stuff on the ingredient list you can’t pronounce. Weston proceeded to visit 14 non-industrialized cultures to test his hypothesis, interviewing various indigenous folks and taking a lot of pictures of their almost universally, unbelievably healthy teeth and gums. The results confirmed his suspicion. Nutrition is key.
Just a second, though.
As I mentioned, I’m no sweet tooth. But that’s not all. I also happen to eat almost no industrially processed foods. My cabinets are stocked with scratch ingredients – whole wheat flour, baking soda, legumes, olive oil, vanilla extract. My fridge contains fresh produce, pastured eggs, homemade mayo, things like that. Why? Some years ago, when I was setting up my own kitchen for the first time, I decided I wanted to know how to cook everything from scratch. I figured the way to do this was to buy nothing but scratch ingredients. I learned to cook the hard way, by trial and error. You’d shudder at the horrible soups on the menu that first year. But it paid off: I’m kind of a foodie now, and loving it.
So I eat quite well. My diet revolves around a variety of wholesome, colorful, minimally processed foods, and as far as I can tell, my body seems pretty happy about it. Then I read what the Canada-born, US-educated world traveler found – namely, what all these non-industrialized diets had in common, different from one another though they be – and I realized that while my diet may be non-mainstream, it’s not at all non-modern. Here’s a summary from NourishedMagazine.com:
“Dr. Price documented that both water-soluble and fat-soluble vitamins are missing from our modern diets. Of particular note, is the near complete absence of fat-soluble vitamins in our modern diet. Without eating those special foods, and it does not have to be large amounts of them, but frequently, and enough to fulfill your bodies needs, you can be susceptible to tooth decay, gum disease, and other diseases. Eating special foods with fat-soluble vitamins won’t cure tooth decay in themselves, but they are a part of the cure. These special foods are as follows: ~ Raw grass-fed dairy including, milk, cheese, cream and butter. ~ Organs of sea animals including fish organs, fish heads, fish eggs, oysters, clams, mussels, and crab and lobster with the innards. ~ Organs of land animals, including liver, bone marrow, tongue, heart, kidneys, pancreas, adrenal glands, gonads and for the more adventurous, brain, eyes and stomach lining. Dr. Price found that a characteristic of groups containing a high immunity to tooth decay is that they ate regularly from two of these three food categories.”
Weston Price’s research has drawn some heat over recent years. Then again, that’s nothing compared to the heat his most famous disciple has drawn. Sally Fallon wrote the book Nourishing Traditions with nutritionist Mary Enig and went on to create the Weston A. Price Foundation, spreading the gospel of non-industrial, old-style eating. Some say she’s a quack. Some say Weston’s guidelines are good, unless you go all crazy and start eating nothing but innards and milk. Some criticize Fallon for advocating lots of meat and butter, while others say the difference lies in where that meat and butter comes from (healthy, pastured, non-factory animals). Weeding through the debate, a few recurring points rise to the surface. Nutrition is crucial to dental health. Pastured animal products are far healthier than conventional ones. Weston’s findings are legit. One should use good judgment when applying them to oneself.
For my part, I’m interested. I’ve got a dozen pastured chickens in my freezer; the other day I tried my hand at making a paté from the livers. I’m going to get a hold of some fermented cod liver oil. I’m already a fan of raw milk, homemade pickles and sourdough bread, so no news there. I might make some remineralizing toothpaste (or maybe just pick a natural alternative) while I’m at it. And why not read up on natural dental health? Can’t hurt.
Oh yeah. Flossing. I’ll try that too, again.
(Wish me luck.)